Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pumping up Sexism with the NDP in Toronto

As mentioned by Wonder below, the Wall of Femmes descended upon Toronto last weekend. Since Ontario recently held a provincial election, the streets were still filled with election signage. We were quite dismayed to see this sign for the usually more enlightened NDP.

As you can see, the sign depicts an NDP orange platform stiletto, with the slogan "Pump up the vote." Here, the sign was placed underneath a more traditional sign showing the smiling face of Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath.

Clearly the Ontario NDP is trying to capitalize on the gender of their leader. The actual message they're trying to send with this sign is less clear. Are they saying one should vote for Ms. Horwath because she's a chick? With sexy shoes?

Considering that women in politics must face the additional challenge of having their every wardrobe choice analyzed by the media and even by their colleagues in a way that men do not (see this recent story about BC Premier Christy Clark's cleavage), the Ontario NDP and its leader should understand that posters that link female politicians to sexually charged footwear only exacerbates this problem. Posters like this encourage us to pay more attention to women politicians' gender identity and sexuality than their politics, and reduces their candidacy to the novelty of being "the chick."

On another level, the use of a stiletto heel to represent Horwath's "femaleness" is problematic on it's own. Using a sexualized symbol like this to illustrate femaleness suggests that sexiness is the defining characteristic of femaleness, and in order to be recognized as female you must be sexy. Further, the use of one symbol (whether sexualized or not) to represent the idea of "femaleness" ignores the enormous variety of qualities, skills, experience and lifestyles that are spread across half the population, and instead reinforces to the viewer that there is only one way to be female in our society.

Why is the Ontario NDP objectifying their leader and diminishing women in general in this way? Why focus on her gender at all? After all, we don't go out of our way to point out that male politicians are men.

In honour of Sarah, Toronto resident and Friend of the Wall, who suggested a more gender neutral way for the Ontario NDP to keep their slogan of "Pump up the vote," I submit this new poster. There ya go, NDP, FIXED IT FOR YOU!


  1. hi grrls, had a look at what you said and the poster. the alternative poster does not work for me as it connotes exercise and cycling and has no link in particular to the candidate. the message is - more people should vote. the original poster with the stilletto counterpointed with the words "pump up the vote" clearly means pump up the vote for a woman candidate. it could also be an appeal to gain the vote of the more conservative woman. the pointy stilletto can and has been used to signal femaleness and female power. having said that, i take your point about women always being reduced to what they wear. we have a female PM in australia and the comments on what she wears and how she looks are wearing (pardon the pun). these shorthand messages are always tricky especially where they run the tightrope risk of being read as sexist or racist.